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Sundance Review Roundup: 'Upstream Color' Is a Gorgeous Head-Scratcher

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood January 22, 2013 at 11:58AM

Critics don't mind feeling stumped when it comes to Shane Carruth's gorgeous, enigmatic Sundance entry "Upstream Color." While the film is largely receiving praise, reviews are quick to point out that the narrative, nominally about a young man and woman "consumed by a higher force," will raise plenty of questions "about what the hell is going on." Review highlights below.
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Amy Seimetz in 'Upstream Color'
Amy Seimetz in 'Upstream Color'

Critics don't mind feeling stumped when it comes to Shane Carruth's gorgeous, enigmatic Sundance entry "Upstream Color." While the film is largely receiving praise, reviews are quick to point out that the narrative, nominally about a young man and woman "consumed by a higher force," will raise plenty of questions "about what the hell is going on." Review highlights below.

The Hollywood Reporter:

The long-awaited second film from Shane Carruth, whose microbudgeted time-travel sci-fier Primer won the 2004 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and a subsequent cult following, pursues a similar but cinematically more complex line of combining exceptional technique with a deliberately obscure narrative and meaning. With much information purposely withheld and no dialogue during the film’s final third, this densely exploratory work will cue both elation for its many beauties and deep-furrowed brows about what the hell is going on. In other words, this is a highbrow cult item par excellence.

Indiewire:

An advanced cinematic collage of ideas involving the slipperiness of human experience, Carruth's polished, highly expressionistic work bears little comparison to his previous feature aside from the constant mental stimulation it provides for its audience. This stunningly labyrinthine assortment of murky events amount to a riddle with no firm solution.

Variety:

As mystifying as his 2004 sci-fier, "Primer," albeit for entirely different reasons, Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color" is a stimulating and hypnotic piece of experimental filmmaking. It's also a poem about pigs, a meditation on orchids, a cerebral-spiritual love story, an intensely elliptical sight-and-sound collage, and perhaps a free-form re-interpretation of Thoreau's "Walden." Surely the most challenging dramatic entry at Sundance this year, this unapologetically avant-garde work regards conventional narrative as if it were a not-especially-interesting alien species

The Playlist:

It's a picture that's not easy to process, and that's part of what makes it so breathtaking and brilliant. You're baffled by what you've seen and in awe of how it's illuminated your mind. Thematically rich, layered and hypnotic, "Upstream Color" is a maddeningly abstract and romantic examination of love, who we are as lovers and what our love does to one another. It's fleeting, transcendental. Don't ask me what it all means.

This article is related to: Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Upstream Color, Shane Carruth


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.